Thwarting Thorton’s text: A duller Our Town

Art & Lit Stage

our townAs American as apple pie and twice as sugary, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town is a sentimental and tender examination of the life and times of the population of Grover’s Corners, a small, turn-of-the-century town in New Hampshire. Apollo Theatre Company’s production conforms to the standard stage design, a mostly bare stage with some multifunctional props like ladders and tables. This allows the stage to transform as we follow the families Gibbs and Webb and their friends “in growing up and in marrying and in living and in dying.”  The play is designed to draw attention to the often overlooked, simpler details of life.

It was in this aspect of the play that a sensitive direction and attention to nuance is noticeably lacking.  Certain scenes in the first and second acts (which focus upon the “growing up”, the “marrying” and the “living” of the inhabitants) failed to take full advantage of the subtleties latent within them; the result left the third act (which focuses on the inevitable death bed regrets) with very little to build upon.  If the play is a demonstration of the human inability to “ever realize life while they live it,” then arguably this underdevelopment is intentional – but for the audience’s sake, it is a rather sadistic creative decision to make.

Nonetheless, the exposition of the overall plot of Grover’s Corner is clear, with a good understanding of pacing.  Though it fails at fully investigating the more intricate workings of this peculiar small-town population, it is sensitive to the range of perspective that Wilder employs.  Its focus, in balanced parts, upon the minute particulars of day-to-day life and upon broader metaphysical aspects gives Our Town its existential edge.   The credit for this effect must go in no small part to Ross Ericson, the Stage Manager, who dextrously weaves the story together with an old-fashioned poise, good-humour and paternal care.

The ensemble works well together, but there are some standout performers.  Eve Winters delivers a controlled but tender performance as Mrs Webb. She is recognisable as a hectoring and pursed-lipped mother figure but realistic with a gentle and pragmatic warmth.  Timothy Bond and Amanda Hootman are both highly commendable in their confident energy and slick ability to modulate between eras, characters and moods.  Amy Hamlen, however, takes an unwise direction with the character of Emily Webb. Though her twee and warbling characterisation suits a cynical reading of Emily, it is also insufferably irritating.  Even in death, amidst the placid and touching atmosphere of the final scene, Emily Gibbs’ ‘Minnie Mouse’ soprano is irking.

Overall, Apollo Theatre Company approaches Our Town with an honest and affectionate temper but, ultimately, fails to squeeze everything they could from a text that is well-known and even worn-out.  The talent and versatility in the cast is clearly there to give something more than this bog-standard production, which makes this production all the more disappointing.

3 STARS

PHOTO / Apollo Theatre Company